My wife and I got teaching jobs almost simultaneously in 1997, she a few months earlier. Her college was at Habra (Sri Chaitanya College), a place near Bongaon, a longish commuting distance from Kolkata. My workplace was at Santiniketan, 158 km in quite another direction from Kolkata. Luckily our week-ends were different. My University remains open on Sundays but is closed on Wednesdays. So we could manage to spend some time together by a lot of commuting between Santiniketan and Barrackpore, where we had a rented accommodation. At Santiniketan we rented a small apartment in Deer Park, a very `posh' locality.
It happened that one day my wife was returning from college when she was accosted by a kitten, a very beautiful black and white one, on the Barrackpore-Barasat road. It had obviously been abandoned on the road by someone with too many kittens. This is a very common practice among us cultured and kind hearted Bengalis - do not spend money to sterilize your cat - do not have the patience to rear a litter of kittens - do not have the heart to kill them humanely - but abandon them surreptitiously at a time and stage when they are sure to die - either be run over by a car, torn up by a stray dog, or simply due to starvation, cold and fear. My wife picked it up and took it home.
We could not keep it - the apartment was a rented one and the landlord was quite fed-up with cats. So an all-out effort was made to find a home for it - if somebody would keep it. But:
The net result was that I found my wife crying - not because she was frustrated, not because she felt angry, but, as she told me, because she could not accept that a beautiful individual could be so unwanted.
I felt that I was a useless fellow - with my years of schooling, with my Ph.D. in Physics, with my job as a teacher which allows me to lecture my students on what not (and deduct marks if they do not do well in the exams) -- I could not give shelter to a mere kitten.
So Muni Mao came with us to Santiniketan.
I clearly remember my wife going over to our neighbours with the kitten, showing the lady of that house what a beautiful new member of our family we had got. The elderly lady flew at once into a rage -
For a few days we kept Muni confined in the apartment - taking turns to take him out to climb a cashew tree nearby. In the mean time I got a loan, went to a broker, surrendered before him (i.e. I said that I did not want to check the papers - if he wanted to defraud me he was free to do so) and purchased a plot of land at Kalapukurdanga. A small brick platform and a smaller latrine were built in days and we moved into a tent on the platform. We stayed in the tent for eleven months, the time it took to get further loans and more or less construct our house.
Muni Mao was joyously playful. He went gambolling all over the plot and into the village, his tail held high like a flag. He was welcome in every house - not because the villagers are particularly good - but because their mud houses were infested with mice and rats. And he never stole anything even if pots of milk were kept with the lids open.
Looking back, I find that those eleven months were some of the most formative and enjoyable ones in our lives. On the very first day, in the evening just after we had set up our tent, I went on my cycle to buy some groceries and looking back from the west, could see the red tent fluttering a little in the breeze. All at once I saw a black-and-white bundle come bounding from one side and prance across my field of view. At that moment I saw clearly that I was happy and had that very rare satisfaction of doing something right after all!
The norwesters came in due time. The tent got damaged many times and gathered patches. I remember standing outside holding the tent in place at 2 a.m. while a severe storm beat on my back. But what beauty was shown to us! What an experience!
Our house was being built. It would soon be ready. Muni was with us and was growing more and more like a dog! He would follow us everywhere and did not like to see us leave the tent. He himself would go around everywhere, at times staying the night inside the village, but wanted us to be there all the time! Whenever Samita left for Kolkata he would know immediately - she dressed differently! It was not at all to his liking! Then one day we went to a friend's wedding in Santiniketan itself, after taking Muni inside the village and slipping out quietly after he went into a house. This was in the evening. When we came back a few hours later, he was not there. We never saw him again. The villagers told us that he cried for quiet some time after he realised that we had gone and then ran off in the direction in which we had started. We searched all around with his photograph for many days. My wife wept softly and often. What happened?
Tom cats migrate - but would he have left a radius of some twenty kilometres within one day?
Maybe somebody killed him and buried him quickly after realising that he was somebody's pet. There are people allergic to cats who are sufficiently vicious -- but .... surely not?
He probably grew wings and flew away, because his work with us was over . He had given us a home in record time, had made us stay with Nature in a tent and learn to listen to the song of the seasons. An artist acquaintance of ours once half-seriously joked about him being a prophet - maybe he was?